Ringnes is Norway’s leading beverage producer in the beer, water and soft drinks segments. Founded by brothers Amund and Ellef Ringnes in 1876, the company has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Carlsberg Group since 2004. Its production site in Hagan just outside Oslo is heralded as one of the most modern breweries in Europe. It operates further facilities in Trondheim, Imsdal and Larvik. Besides its local own brands Ringnes also bottles Carlsberg Group products here, such as Carlsberg and Tuborg. The company is extremely marketing oriented and recognized the signs of the times early on, realizing that it should not only bottle its traditional beer brands but also alcohol-free beers, diet beverages, such as Pepsi Max, and premium mineral water as well – categories which in the past few years have positively mushroomed. Accordingly, Ringnes’ total market share in Norway is 54%, with that for water even higher at 68%.
Successful marketing not only requires innovative strength and creativity regarding the actual products, however, but also when it comes to the product dressing. In using returnable bottles, where both size and shape are subject to limitations, Ringnes felt it was becoming increasingly restricted regarding the design of its bottles. This was further irritated by the fact that the competition was starting to introduce more and more individually designed one-way containers. When the company thus decided to also switch to using non-returnable bottles in the future, contact was made with the planners and consultants at KHS at the beginning of 2014 – which seemed natural as the Carlsberg Group has enjoyed a close partnership with KHS for many years. Ringnes quickly opted to invest in three new filling lines: one in Larvik with a capacity of up to 26,400 bottles per hour and two at its anchor in Hagan, each with an output of up to 30,000 bottles per hour, with one for bottles holding up to 0.5 liters and the other for larger containers.
Ringnes’ prime concern was how it could transfer the brand values of its premium products, and especially those of its Farris water brand, to the one-way bottle. This challenge demanded that several steps be taken as regards both market research and bottle development. Here, Ringnes was given tremendous support by both its own design agency and the design experts from KHS Bottles & ShapesTM in order to perfectly combine both the aesthetic and functional aspects of the new containers. The result is a 1.5-liter PET bottle which is deliberately heavier than the non-returnable bottles of this size usually found on the one-way PET water market. This extra ‘bulk’ gives it an air of greater quality which is slightly reminiscent of the old glass bottle and helps to obtain the premium retail price. The weight of the bottles can be flexibly adapted to suit future market demands. Among the qualities which are of widespread importance today are the absolute clarity and transparency of the material; juice and soda pop especially are shown off to a better advantage in their original color in their respective new, crystal-clear receptacles. The beverages look a lot more appetizing than when presented in bluish returnable PET bottles.
Special demands made of hygiene
Before Ringnes made the final switch to one-way bottles, however, various other aspects had to be examined and optimized in order to improve the shelf life and storage length of the products, taking considerations such as CO2 diffusion and oxygen barriers into account. The topic of near-water products (such as flavored water), on the other hand, made special demands of hygiene in general and on the destruction of microorganisms in particular. A specially developed and installed flavor dosing unit also enables precise dosage at a ratio of up to 1:1,000. As the flavorings are dissolved in alcohol, dosing is performed according to ATEX guidelines on explosion protection.
As premium products, one of the requirements of Ringnes water brands is that they are as natural as possible. As a result, the company would like to be able to successively and completely eliminate the addition of preservatives. To enable this and to also prevent any recontamination in the long term, the Farris line in Larvik is equipped with a treatment plant for ultraclean filling.
Resources saved wherever possible
Although marketing played a key role in many aspects of the line design, production requirements were of course also taken into account. Water and energy consumption should be kept to a minimum. This is why literally everything KHS has to offer in the way of resource-saving options was incorporated into the filling lines. One such feature is the AirbackPlus system which ensures that the compressed air used in the stretch blow molding process is not vented to the atmosphere as is usually the case but fed back into the process circuit through a special ring line and recycled. The stretch blow molder/filler block was of course also configured so that there are no conveying segments.
At the same time all was done to ensure that the lines are as future proof as possible. If required, options such as ultraclean filling, preform sterilization or the FullyEnclosed FilmPack™ can also be used at a later date. In view of the high labor costs and strict health and safety regulations in Norway aspects such as optimum operability were also a major issue. Incidentally, here Ringnes has again not only shown itself to be innovative in its marketing but has also established new production standards. In the future, too, the company wishes to stay true to its motto, for example when it comes to increasing filling capacities while simultaneously cutting down on the amount of energy used.
“It’s the people who make the difference.”
Three questions for Martin Kjekshus, production director, and Erlend Aadland, mantech and asset manager, at Ringnes AS
1. What specific benefits are you hoping your three new filling lines will give you?
Martin Kjekshus: The new filling lines give us the maximum in flexibility regarding our products. This goes for both the bottle content – that is, the type of beverage and flavor – and the bottle size. And of course the new lines were needed so that we could set everything up for our switchover to one-way bottles.
Erlend Aadland: According to our brand philosophy we want to achieve the greatest possible sustainability in production with the help of our new lines. This means that we try to keep energy consumption down to a minimum wherever possible – especially when producing bottles, which is extremely energy intensive. It’s too early yet to cite any figures. I’m quite confident, however, that we’ll have excellent results here.
Kjekshus: What we’re already noticing is a distinct drop in the number of complaints from our customers. Consumers often use returnable bottles for other products with strong flavors. It could happen that these flavors are not fully removed during washing and that the next filling of water then has an unpleasant aftertaste even though it’s perfectly safe to drink. This can’t happen with one-way bottles, which is why this is the right course of action for our premium products.
2. What were the particular challenges you faced when installing the new lines?
Aadland: The process is naturally a long one when you integrate modern lines of this size into existing buildings, especially when the production shop in question is 100 years old as is the case in Larvik, where we first started bottling Farris mineral water in 1914. However careful the planning, you sometimes simply have to improvise – for example when a concrete support suddenly appears when you’re setting up the machinery which in theory shouldn’t be there at all! The layout then has to be adjusted to accommodate it. In this case we had to lower a preform conveying segment, for instance, so that we could get everything in.
Kjekshus: And that’s just one of many examples. In such cases you need a really flexible team you can fully rely on.
3. What was it like working with the people from KHS?
Kjekshus: The three lines were the first project we implemented together in the course of our partnership. If you start from scratch, like we did, it’s important to fill a partnership with life, to get used to one another, to build up trust and learn from each other. This all worked out very well with the people from KHS.
Aadland: It turned out to be a stroke of genius that we worked with the same team at both sites. Thanks to the experience and solution-oriented approach adopted by all the KHS employees working on our project we were able to overcome a number of hurdles very quickly and without any fuss. And what René Meißner, the project manager at KHS, achieved in this context just can’t be beaten. This simply reinforces the fact that in my experience, it’s the people who make all the difference.